Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theologies

01.01.00 | Denver Journal, David Buschart, Theology | by Ed L. Miller | by Stanley J. Grenz

    Dr. David Buschart's review of, "Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theologies," by Ed Miller and Stanley Grenz.

    Ed. L. Miller and Stanley J. Grenz, eds. Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theologies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), x + 246pp., $17.00.

    Ed. Miller and Stanley Grenz have written an accessible and useful introduction to Christian theology in the twentieth century. Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theologies provides a brief descriptive survey of fourteen theologians and the schools of thought with which they are associated. Unlike another book on twentieth-century theology co-authored by Stanley Grenz (with Roger E. Olson, Twentieth Century Theology: God and the World In a Transitional Age [InterVarsity, 1992]), which employed the immanence and transcendence of God as an integrating interpretive theme, there is no overarching theme or interpretive scheme in the Fortress Introduction. There is no interpretive introductory or concluding chapter, and there is limited attention to evaluation. Nor is there an index or a bibliography. The book is clearly and fairly written, and as such can serve as a useful primer

    There are no surprises in the selection of movements and theologians presented; each is a major influence, worthy of inclusion in such a survey. Unlike some other surveys (e.g., David F. Ford, The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology In the Twentieth Century, 2d ed. [Blackwell, 1997]) there are no unambiguously evangelical theologians presented. The presentations provide fair and accurate descriptions, free of caricature. When Miller and Grenz do venture analytical and evaluative comments, they often reflect an evangelical perspective.

    Though the authors do not suggest an overall interpretive scheme, taken as a whole the book does provide an occasion to offer at least one general observation on the development of twentieth-century theology, and it is simply this: Twentieth-century theology has followed a path of increasing diversification, some would say fragmentation. The first five chapters, covering the first half of the twentieth century, consider major figures who, though they are diverse (Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr, Bultmann, Tillich and Bonhoeffer), are all generally regarded as being part of one larger theological school of thought, namely Neo-Orthodoxy. Three chapters present theologians (Moltmann, Gutierrez, and Ruether) related in various ways to another cluster of theologies, Liberation theologies. The remaining five chapters, four of which deal with theologians (Hamilton and Altizer, Cobb, Pannenberg, Hick, and Lindbeck) who flourished in the final three decades of the century, present five types of theology which have no clear links with each other. Thus, this selection of fourteen representatives of twentieth-century theology illustrates the increasing diversification—sometimes to the point of fragmentation, or what one scholar has called a "shattered spectrum"—which marks Christian theology.

    In itself, this does not render these diversified theologies inferior. It does, however, constitute a fact of contemporary theological life of which pastors and church leaders must be aware. Two challenges may be noted here. Because of the diversity which characterizes the multifaceted market-place of theological perspectives, there is a need to be theologically informed in such a way that one is able to discern between the theological wheat and chaff. And, this theological diversity needs to be engaged at a time when, as much as ever, the Christian community needs to be united in its witness to the world. Unity and diversity are not incompatible, but one usually must work harder for unity when in the midst of increasing diversity.

    W. David Buschart
    Professor of Theology and Historical Studies
    Denver Seminary
    Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.

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